Americans are working more than ever. According to a recent Workforce Management study, 55% of employees have seen their workload increase, and 27% say it’s doubled.
For many workers, taking time away from their jobs feels like an untenable luxury. Twenty-five percent of US employees don’t take any vacation at all—either because they neglect their accrued time or their employer doesn’t provide it.
Why would anyone choose not to take the time away that they’ve rightfully earned? For many, fear is a factor—fear of missing out on promotions, being laid-off, or judgment from bosses or coworkers. However, it’s important to push past the fear and take time off.
Certainly, anyone can work fifty, sixty, or eighty hours per week if they choose, but doing so can harm you in the following ways:
Working too much affects your brain
An American Journal of Epidemiology study followed civil servants over five years to understand the relationship between long hours and brain functioning. Compared to those who worked forty hours per week, participants who worked more than fifty-five hours showed poorer vocabulary and reasoning skills. In plain English, working too much actually makes us stupider.
Working too much can hurt your career advancement
When people think about how to get ahead in their career, many believe that working long hours is the answer. However, working more hours does not always equal better performance. In fact, it may hurt your opportunities for advancement. Without adequate time off, you will not perform at your peak. Your productivity will diminish and your work will suffer. If you want to move up that corporate ladder, you have to recharge your batteries periodically. For every ten hours away from the office, employees realized an eight percent rise in their performance reviews.
Working too much can lead to depression
A study published in PLoS ONE examined more than 2,000 workers in the United Kingdom over six years. They found that employees who worked more than eleven hours per day had twice the risk of depression than those who worked seven to eight hours per day. The relationship remained even when researchers statistically removed the influence of socio-economic factors, chronic physical disease, smoking and alcohol use.
Working too much can kill you
In August, 21-year old Moritz Erhardt was found dead in his dorm room. During the course of his demanding seven-week internship, he had pulled eight all-nighters in two weeks. Although Erhardt’s case is rare, it reflects the general trend that working too much is not healthy. Luckily, when we take time away, these effects are mitigated. For example, the Framingham Heart study reported that when workers take annual vacations, their risk for a heart attack is reduced by 30% in men and 50% in women.
Bottom Line: Take time off
For the sake of your career and well-being, you must schedule time away from your job. If taking a two-week Mediterranean cruise is not possible, start with short vacations. Vacations of just a few days can increase health and well-being. Also, don’t feel guilty about checking your e-mail a few times while you’re away. For many workers, being able to check in at work eases anxiety and helps them to relax.